Nawiliwili Harbor

Nawiliwili Harbor - The Heart and Springboard Into Kauai
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Nawiliwili Harbor is home to many cruise lines, private charters, and sailing enthusiasts. Activities range from private charters for fishing and sightseeing to exploring all that Kauai has to offer. 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

When Captain James Cook first gazed upon Nawiliwili Harbor in 1778, he could see that it was the physical and cultural heart for the locals. The bay was home to fishermen and locals who farmed taro fields that were in abundance. Although the harbor has changed over the years, one thing remains true: Nawiliwili Harbor is the heart of Kauai.

Nawiliwili Harbor is nestled at the base of mountains and sits at the mouth of the Huleia Stream. The harbor’s sing-song name comes from the wiliwili trees that once grew abundantly. Although the harbor has always been popular with Hawaiians, it wasn’t until 1930 that it became Kauai’s primary port. To attract large cargo and passenger ships, the harbor needed to be made safe. The threat of vessels being smashed on the rocks or stuck on the sand was too great. Sugar baron and philanthropist George Wilcox stepped in and funded the necessary construction.

The Nawiliwili harbor is a ten-minute drive from the Lihue Airport and is home to many maritime businesses. The Coast Guard has a station in Nawiliwili, and many cruise lines dock here as well. Nawiliwili Harbor attracts private sailing and boat owners, too. There are 82 berths and five multi-hull moorings in the harbor. For boat-owning anglers, there is a boat ramp and fish hoist to lift that colossal marlin you’ll catch. For information on rates and availability, contact the harbor office. 

Whether you arrive by car, cruise ship, or private sailboat, Nawiliwili Harbor is a springboard into all that Kauai offers.

There are several sportfishing charters, whale watching, and sightseeing charters based out of the harbor. Some offer private and shared charters, so be sure you understand the benefits of each while comparing rates and options.

Beach lovers will want to sink their toes in the sands of Kalapaki Beach and splash in the warm ocean. It’s only a half-mile away and offers swimming, paddle boarding, boogie boarding, and other activities. Although the waters are calm, there isn’t a lifeguard on duty, so you’re swimming at your own risk. 

Kalapaki Beach is home to many restaurants and boutiques. When shopping, consider buying a Niihau shell lei. These leis are handmade on the private island of Niihau, where locals live without electricity and other modern conveniences. Niihau artisans take great pride in fashioning leis with identical-looking shells. Such craftsmanship and beauty are why these leis are treasured worldwide. 

Adventurers will be dazzled by the choices Nawiliwili Harbor offers. There’s hiking nearby, pristine waters, and too many activities to participate in!

Diners will find delicious cuisine in the nearby towns. Menus range from gourmet options in fancy restaurants to mouth-watering burgers (locally sourced) and Asian fusion at roadside stops. 

Like Captain Hook, when you visit Nawiliwili Harbor, you too will agree that it’s the physical and cultural heart of Kauai. 

Insider Tips:
Keep your rain gear handy! Nawiliwili Harbor receives over 50 inches of rain a year. And fans of the hit movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, will recognize the port. It was the backdrop for several scenes.